Olympus E-510 in practice
Being familiar with Olympus cameras and Olympus philosophy, it's not hard to feel right at home.
The Li-ion battery charges quickly. Inserting it into the camera is no problem, and even if the battery door is open, it can't fall out due to a small latch that holds it in place. Business as usual, in other words. There's no memory card in the retail kit, but on the other hand, a 32 MB card is more of an insult than a seriously useful thing. When buying the camera, buy a reasonably big card, too, about 1 GB should be enough. The camera takes both CF and xD cards, which is good news if you already own an Olympus digicam, since you can use all your xD cards too.
The lens mount is metal, however, both kit lenses, the Zuiko Digital 14-42 and Zuiko Digital 40-150 use plastic mounts. The lenses are easy to mount and remove, as usual. But because the mounts are plastic, take care not to chip them, as this would introduce a foreign particle in the camera. It's not likely to happen, though. Just be gentle, and that’s it. Also, check the lens mount for any scratches when changing the lens.
After turning it on, the camera takes about two seconds to get ready. The shutter release is very sensitive, with very light pressure required to go from exposure and focus lock to the shutter actuation. I think it’s the most sensitive shutter release in its class, which is a good thing, once you get used to it.
Focusing isn't very fast. In low light and with low-contrast subjects, it could even be called mediocre. On the other hand, the target public doesn't really need fast focusing. Also, focusing can be activated using the AEL/AFL button, making it even faster.
Metering performs well. It can also be customised - the AEL/AFL button can be used to meter with a different metering mode than the one set on the shutter release. Also, just about every metering mode is available, including spot metering, and exposure compensation is unusually generous, allowing for compensation of +/-5 EV. White balance can be set via a dedicated button. In Auto mode, automatic white balance didn't perform all that well, often setting a very different white balance for very similar shots. Again – get acquainted with the buttons, they're your friends if you want to change a setting quickly. Most of them are really well laid out, however, I couldn't get used to the AEL/AFL button placement.
The LCD display is good, and information displayed on it is easy to see. In addition, many functions can be set on the screen directly, without going deep into the menus, which I thought was excellent. One not so good thing about it, though, is that it doesn't turn off automatically while looking through the viewfinder. Because of this, a certain amount of light is reflected into the eye, and considering that the viewfinder isn't very bright, this can prove to be a bit disturbing.
The camera has a built-in flash, which is just fine for most basic needs, so there's no immediate need for an additional flash. Since the camera also includes a red-eye reduction mode, the integrated flash can be used for fill-in light in portraits without a problem.
For beginners, 25 scene modes are available. Don't get too used to them, though. Do a bit of studying and start using M, A and S modes, you'll get better results. On the other hand, if you don't want to use advanced modes, get the Olympus E-410.
The sensor is a 10 MP job, nothing unusual about that. Exposure times are up to 60 seconds in A, S and M modes and up to 1 second in other modes. Bulb is limited to 8 minutes.
For the entry level cameras, Olympus produced two very compact lenses, the Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 14-42 and 40-150. They both contribute to a very low camera weight, while the 40-150 mm tele zoom makes all competitive tele zoom kit lenses look like Big Berthas. That's the point of the 4/3 system, after all. The Olympus E-510 will mostly be used with both kit lenses. And because of that, I didn't test it with any better lenses. After all, this camera isn't intended as a replacement for the now ancient Olympus E-1, which is usually used with the utterly great Zuiko Digital 14-54 mm f/2.8-3.5 lens. Of course, using such a great lens would make it possible to get higher image quality.
Comparing the Olympus E-510 with other entry-level cameras from a practical point of view, it is packed with interesting and useful features. Sensor cleaning, image stabilisation and live view are just great. And the Olympus E-510 is the only camera to offer these three very useful features. They are, of course, primarily intended for the enthusiast photographer who wants to get as many features as possible for the smallest amount of money.
Personally, I don't think that the Olympus E-510 is quite as user friendly as the Olympus E-410. That's no bad thing, though - if you want the most user friendliness, get the Olympus E-410. If you want to experiment a bit, go for the Olympus E-510. This makes the Olympus E-510 the perfect camera for those who bothered to learn what the buttons do, know a bit about photography and generally want to get a great picture straight out of the camera. If you're a demanding hobbyist who's looking for a light, yet capable camera to take with you on trips and treks and whatnot, this is the camera for you. Even if this is your first DSLR, don’t feel overwhelmed. It’s still a very user friendly camera, and with a bit of practice, you’ll soon master it.
The display contains all necessary information.
In LiveView, focus points can be shifted far away from the centre. In normal operation, only the three points in the centre can be used.
Both lenses are very compact, but the 40-150 mm (80-300 mm equivalent) is the real champ here – small, light and perfect for travel shots.